Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports / USA TODAY Sports
The Calgary Flames were one of the most active clubs this offseason and after jumping out to a 3-1-0 record in the first week of the new season, their biggest risk – acquiring goaltender Mike Smith – looks to be paying off.
After a disappointing exit from the playoffs last season – a four-game sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks – the Flames understood that once again they would need to address their biggest crutch, goaltending.
Elliott and Johnson ultimately failed to give the Flames the confidence they’d been searching for between the pipes since the departure of Miikka Kiprusoff. Despite each going through periods of consistent play, both would always regress back to their normal selves.
In the end, Elliott put up a 26-18-3 record with a 2.55 GAA (23rd among goalies) and a .910 save percentage (tied for 32nd). Meanwhile, Johnson went 18-15-1 with a 2.59 (24th) GAA and a .910 save percentage.
Elliott manned the net in the playoffs where he was even worse, posting a 3.89 GAA and a .880 save percentage.
So this offseason Brad Treliving and Co. made the decision to “upgrade” by acquiring Smith from the Arizona Coyotes for Johnson, prospect Brandon Hickey, and a conditional draft pick.
It seemed like an odd move given that Smith had posted a 2.92 GAA (43rd among goalies) and a save percentage of .914 – only slightly better than both Elliott and Johnson.
However, if you look at last season’s stats you’ll see Smith faced 1,819 shots, the sixth most in the league, and subsequently turned away the sixth-most shots, averaging 34 saves per 60 minutes. Furthermore, the Coyotes allowed the second-most shots against per game (34.1) and had the worst Corsi-against per 60 minutes with a 61.72 mark.
Fast forward to this season and through four games it would look as if the Flames’ front office knew exactly what it was doing all along.
Smith has been the Flames’ best player putting up a 2.00 GAA, a .950 save percentage, while adding a shutout. In those games, he has made over 40 saves three times and has already faced 160 shots – a league high.
Following Wednesday night’s game against the Kings, head coach Glen Gulutzan noted that the Flames are relying too heavily on the play of Smith.
It means the team has more in the tank up front, but it’s also an insinuation that the team has a newfound trust in a position that’s long been an area of concern.
To the Flames’ brass, this reward was certainly worth the risk
(Photo courtesy: Action Images)